Study Guide

The Tin Drum Sex and Lust

By Günter Grass

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Sex and Lust

Quickly he buttoned the trousers that fear and an overwhelming need for refuge had bidden him open under her skirts. He fiddled quickly with the buttons, fearing an all too rapid cooling of his rod, for the weather carried the threat of autumnal chills (1.35).

The book opens with a pretty absurd and explicit sexual scene, setting the stage for the other unusual sexual shenanigans throughout the book. (You gotta wonder how the actual physics of this strange conception worked.)

And just what, you may ask, is Oskar looking for under his grandmother's skirts? Does he wish to imitate his grandfather Koljaiczek and take liberties with the old woman? (10.8)

Oskar just wants to clarify that there was nothing sexual about it. But do we take his word for it? He's preoccupied with the smell under there. Anyway, he denies it vehemently, but nobody's asked. Hmmm…

That's how Anna Koljaiczek sold her produce. Meanwhile I grasped the magic of temptation, but not the temptation that lured fourteen-year-old boys into the basement with Susi Kater to play doctor (10.12).

Oskar probably hears rumors about the neighborhood teenage floozy, but at this point he's too young to appreciate what's the big deal about it. That changes pretty quickly for Oskar, thanks to Maria.

The stylish, always slightly plaintive Jan Bronski, submissive at work, ambitious in love, imprudent and obsessed by beauty in equal measure, who lived from the flesh of my mama, who, as I still believe and doubt to this day, begot me in Matzerath's name (10.31).

Another illustration of how, at a very young age, Oskar was acutely aware of the sexual feelings and behavior of the adults in his life.

Oskar jumped up and flung himself at Maria. She caught him with her hair. His face was now overgrown. It grew between his lips. Maria laughed and tried to push him away (21.43).

Oskar impulsively runs to Maria and presses his face into her crotch. Maria, though, still isn't mortified. Instead, she just laughs and tries to push him away. She really doesn't seem to see him as a sexual person—he looks and acts like a three-year-old. It was scenes like this that got the movie banned in some cities for being child pornography.

Something was going on that Maria had neither seen nor probably ever felt before; her hand twitched, trembled, tried to fly away, for woodruff nipped at her, woodruff penetrated her skin, woodruff excited her, gave her a feeling, a feeling, a feeling… (22.18)

When Oskar puts fizz powder into Maria's hand and uses his spit to make it foam, Maria seems to undergo some sort of sexual awakening. At least that's how Oskar describes it when he repeats the words "a feeling" at the end of this passage. "Spit" could also be a euphemism here.

And so Oskar acquired a third drumstick—he was old enough for it. And I drummed not on tin but on moss. And I no longer knew: am I drumming? Is it Maria? Is that my moss or her moss? (22.44)

You have to admit that a drumstick and drumming are odd images to use in this situation, but that's what he knows, what he compares all experiences to. Oskar poetically describes the sense of being swept away during sex. He's sixteen, plenty old enough to experience an erection.

Oskar was seventeen back then, yet in spite of his youth he developed into a man on the treacherously convoluted training grounds of Lina Greff. Abandoning the military comparisons, let me now measure Oskar's progress in artistic terms. […] From Maria's childlike and sentimental yet ever so sweet harmonica straight to the conductor's stand; for Lina Greff offered me an orchestra […]. There I learned to blow, strum, puff, pluck, and bow […] Oskar drew all there was from Frau Greff and, though satisfied, remained unsatisfied, like any true artist (25.2).

Oskar sure has a way with words. At seventeen, he's already a sexual connoisseur thanks to Frau Greff, whose husband has been neglecting her sexually because he's more interested in teenage boys. Oskar's too small to catch his interest, but Frau Greff is desperate, apparently.

I couldn't help hearing that the coconut fibers were giving Sister Dorothea a feeling much like the feeling fizz powder had given my beloved Maria all those years ago, except that the fizz powder allowed me to hold up my end fully and triumphantly, while here on the coco mat I was a total and humiliating flop (41.22).

Oskar can't achieve an erection in this scene and he feels totally humiliated by his failure. What's missing is any idea that a stranger accosting a woman in a dark bathroom probably isn't the ideal turn on for her (or him). But who knows? Maybe his penis has developed a moral conscience and is no longer cool with the idea of having non-consensual sex.

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